by Sarah Peterson
SunFocus staff writer
The local First Cavalry Division Association, Walter H. Westman-Northland Chapter celebrated the 103rd birthday of its founder for which it’s named on Feb. 4.
Days later, the chapter mourned the passing of Westman Feb. 6 and brought the remembrance full circle as it recognized the chapter’s 10th anniversary Feb. 9 during a chapter meeting, held at the same location as its first chapter meeting, the Anoka American Legion.
Now the chapter is nearing another landmark: The chapter has donated nearly $100,000 to the Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center, which supports families of Minnesota National Guard and Reserve service members who are deployed away from home.
The chapter’s donations to the cause come from support by patrons of gun shows – at which the chapter sets up a booth and accepts donations – and from outside groups, such as the local Paint Brush Shooters chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which primarily pulls members from Blaine, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Mounds View and Spring Lake Park.
The Feb. 16 donation of $300 from the Turkey Federation chapter was their first to the First Cavalry chapter.
“They feel we have a worthy cause to make a donation to,” said Jim Wright of Blaine, First Cavalry chapter treasurer.
Wright also organizes some knife and gun shows, so he has been providing space for the First Cavalry chapter to set up a booth for about the past seven years. The majority of the funds raised comes from patrons at gun shows.
Some dealers who set up at these gun show are also members of the local Turkey Federation chapter, including Dave Meacham of Coon Rapids, chairman of the local Turkey Federation chapter. Wright gave Meacham’s Paint Brush Shooters chapter a table at a show to promote their game feed, and so at the game feed, the Paint Brush Shooters had a special raffle dedicated to support the Walter H. Westman-Northland Chapter, and the Feb. 16 donation came from proceeds of that dedicated raffle.
Meacham told the Sun Focus that the Turkey Federation chapter participates in other fund-raising efforts to support other programs, as well, through the National Wild Turkey Federation’s “Hunters Care” program. Many of this chapter’s events are held at the Fridley VFW Post 363, he said, Some of the chapter’s members are veterans themselves, Meacham said.
“We try and help out where we can,” he said.
The First Cavalry chapter is a lesser-known group, but 100 percent of the money raised goes to help families of those deployed, so he and his chapter wanted to support those efforts, according to Meacham.
“Right now, we send out just over $2,000 per month. … We have to do a lot of fund-raising,” Wright said of the First Cavalry chapter’s efforts to support the Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center. Its current total of funds donated is about $95,000.
Wright said that every penny donated goes to the cause and nothing goes to administration expenses, like postage and thank you cards, which he pays for himself. When the First Cavalry chapter began collecting funds for this program in 2005, it collected about $200 its first weekend show. In Duluth a few weeks ago, Wright said, a total of about $3,000 was collected from patrons coming into a show.
“The public is very supportive,” Wright said.
Some of the same people are repeat visitors to gun shows and get to know the people behind the First Cavalry booth, he said. “When they come into the gun shows, they know (the booth is) there and have money in one hand to put in a donation and money to get into the gun show in the other hand,” Wright said.
The extra funds help, he said, because there are times of the year when they don’t have shows to attend for donations, so money might not be coming in, but the chapter still wants to send funds out.
The Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center program has centers across the state and is connected with the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. For those unfamiliar with the First Cavalry chapter or its cause, they might question the need for funds.
“Some people are like, well, ‘Why do military people need help?’ There’s a lot of reasons,” Wright said. In the past year, about 2,500 came home from being deployed abroad and a statistic said about 30 percent of those would be unemployed, he said.
“So you have a lot of different hardships. Family assistance centers get aid but don’t get donations, so we researched and we can provide them with (gift) cards, so they have emergency relief. So if someone comes in and says, ‘I can’t feed my kids,’ they can get grocery cards, depending on their needs.”
They can get aid through other programs, but they might procrastinate because of their pride, Wright said.
“They’re desperate at that moment and this has worked well for them,” he said. The chapter has even received thank you cards from people who have received gift cards and from people who work in the assistance centers.
Walter Westman’s legacy
Westman’s hope of starting a chapter in Minnesota for the First Cavalry Division Association came to fruition, as did his goal to host the association’s national convention in Minnesota, which his chapter did in 2010. Wright remembered him for his ambitions and dreams to see the chapter progress.
“He was quite energetic; he always was a conversationalist. He was an avid horseman, because, actually in World War II, he was in the cavalry with horses – he had gone to the Philippines, and that’s where he became a member of the First Cavalry,” Wright said. “He really wanted to create a horse honor guard – they have it in Texas. He would have liked them to come up here, but they couldn’t, really.”
He was the oldest living member of the First Cavalry Division, Wright said; the next oldest died last year at age 94.
About First Cavalry Division Association, Walter H. Westman Northland Chapter
The 1st Cavalry Division Association, founded in 1944, is a nationwide group, a non-political, non-sectarian, non-profit soldiers’ and veterans’ fraternity. Anyone who has been assigned or attached to the 1st Cavalry Division anytime, anywhere, is eligible for life membership in the association. National headquarters are in Texas.
The Walter H. Westman-Northland Chapter was founded in 2002 by Westman and family members after Westman attended a national convention and came back to Minnesota with a desire to start a chapter. Members come from Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota and total just under 200.
In 2005, the chapter adopted a fund-raising program in conjunction with the Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center. This program provides assistance to families of Minnesota National Guard and Reserve service members who are deployed away from home by supplying grocery gift cards to the Family Assistance Centers statewide. The chapter raises funds by attending gun shows and taking donations.
For more information or to support the effort, contact Dave LaPlante, public relations adviser, at 952-933-3487.
To learn more, visit www.whw-northland1cda.org.
Sarah Peterson is at [email protected]